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UW-Madison bridge

Students cross a pedestrian bridge at the bottom of Bascom Hill on the UW-Madison campus.

After high levels of lead dust were found in areas of Agriculture Hall, UW-Madison is testing several areas in the building and outside a neighboring preschool in Nancy Nicholas Hall.

Dr. William Kinsey, director of medical services at University Health Services, said contractor Structurewerks removed lead paint in Agriculture Hall’s northeast emergency stairwell over the summer, and testing showed that lead dust escaped the work enclosure.

The university conducted the tests after employees reported finding dust in areas directly outside the construction zone, Kinsey said.

“Our hope is that it’s contained to just those adjacent areas,” he said.

Nicholas Hall houses the School of Human Ecology Preschool Lab. Kinsey said the preschool’s playground as well as Nicholas Hall’s rooftop terrace are being tested for lead. Those areas have been closed “out of an abundance of caution” pending the results of the testing, he said.

Lead is a toxin that, even in small amounts, can damage multiple organ systems, Kinsey said. The main concern of lead poisoning is its effects on the brain.

“The safety of our employees and children who attend our Preschool Lab is our most important concern,” he said. “We are in the process of taking all possible steps to remedy the situation. We will share updates and information as soon as we have it.”

The preschool itself will not be closed. Kinsey said the preschool’s routine cleaning practices would be sufficient to clean up any small amounts of lead that might have traveled that far.

Preschool students’ parents and Agriculture Hall and School of Human Ecology employees who might have been affected were notified of the lead dust and additional testing.

Employees with offices in the east wing along the north and east side of the building will have their work spaces relocated or have the option to telecommute. Employees can also schedule an appointment for a blood level test by calling 608-265-5610.

The university said it is unsure if the Preschool Lab’s playground was affected, but test results are expected next week.


Shelley K. Mesch is a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal. She earned a degree in journalism from DePaul University.